Last week I participated in the inaugural “Culture of Enterprise in an Age of Globalization” symposium at the Cato Institute. The event, co-sponsored by Cato and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, is part of an ambitious new program that aims to encourage scholarly reflection on and greater awareness of those factors that contribute to the building and maintaining of a humane and vibrant economy—a “culture of enterprise.”
The papers are available for listening or viewing at Cato’s site.
If you observe very much of the conference, you will see that, while there is much common ground with respect to economic freedom, there is some tension between those who emphasize cultural issues (including virtue and morality) and those who minimize the importance of those issues. It is not news that there are differences between, for lack of more precise descriptions, “free market Christians” and “secular libertarians.” What puzzles me a bit, however, is opposition to the very notion of virtue, reflection on which, as I stressed in my talk, predates the birth of Christ and is part and parcel of the Western intellectual tradition.
Among the symposium’s exchanges was one between George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan and me about the relative importance of “political culture” and “personal culture” in the development of a thriving economy. I confess to not yet being certain about what the two terms are supposed to mean, but, operating on my guess about the distinction between the two, I wonder what Professor Caplan would do with the problem of corruption. Obviously it increases transaction costs and therefore is a major drain on economic productivity. It seems to me that it is also clearly a matter of personal culture. Not that it is not also a matter of political culture, but that is the point I tried to make in the course of my remarks: one cannot ultimately separate the two. In any case, virtue is necessary in the context of either political or personal culture—a claim that, it seems to me, should not be controversial among advocates of a culture of enterprise.